FOOD ONEPOT-MEALS RA

Mediterranean Chicken and Bulgur Skillet. Somehow, throwing together a mish-mash of flavorful ingredients in one bowl seems to be the ultimate comfort food. (Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

Juli Leonard

“Bowls!” is the title that shouted at me one morning when I got to work, where cookbooks seem to magically appear at my desk overnight.

The new book by Molly Watson perfectly explains why one-pot dishes and meals have become all the rage. They’ve got everything in a meal in one place. Somehow, throwing together a mish-mash of flavorful ingredients in one bowl seems to be the ultimate comfort food. They also offer flexibility if you don’t have all the components readily available, allowing the cook to swap out ingredients when desired.

Note: This isn’t recommended for those diners who like to keep their chicken separate from the rice and way far away from the saucy veggies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was a kid once.

A recent trip home had me taking care of my mom after foot surgery. For a week, I was in charge of feeding her, since she couldn’t put weight on her foot for any length of time and thus couldn’t make me a home-cooked meal that I know she likes to do.

Now, I didn’t have to cook every night. Mom is cool with some carry-out. But I figured when I did cook, it should be easy — both to make and for her to consume.

While her foot was elevated on a pouffy stack of pillows, we watched marathon sessions on Food Network of “Chopped” and “Beat Bobby Flay” and I flipped through her stack of food magazines for ideas. Lo and behold, Cooking Light had a beautiful spread titled “Hearty one-pot whole grains.” This meshed with my intent of making a one-pot meal, having been inspired by that “Bowls!” cookbook that was miles away.

The Cooking Light story has recipes for umami broth with buckwheat and vegetables and Cajun red beans and brown rice with Andouille sausage.

The recipe on the last page, a Mediterranean chicken and bulgur skillet, fit both my mother’s and my tastes. The chicken breasts are lightly browned in a big skillet before exiting for a rest stop on a plate. Then, onions, garlic and other herbs are thrown into the skillet to season chopped kale, roasted red peppers and bulgur, a chewy staple from the Middle East.

Toward the end of the process, the chicken reconvenes with its counterparts, and the pan of comingled ingredients is put in the oven to finish the job. Topped with sharp, tangy feta and chopped dill, the final product is both satisfying and feels healthy.

Alas, my plans to make Mom my dish were dashed when post-surgery side effects took over, and only soups and Jell-O seemed to suffice. No matter. I made the dish when I returned to North Carolina.

I subbed farro, another so-called trendy grain, for the bulgur, giving the dish a nutty taste. As with every dish I make, I critique it, trying to see what tweaks I might make in future efforts.

You’ll notice in the photos that I used thinly sliced chicken breasts, which I likely wouldn’t do again. Stick with the normal thickness. I might have added more salt, or a splash or two of balsamic vinegar at the end to keep with the Mediterranean vibe while adding additional flavor.

Next time I visit Mom, I’ll be ready to cook for her, even if her foot isn’t elevated.

MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN AND BULGUR SKILLET

The tester used a 14-ounce package of farro in place of the bulgur. Because the farro grains are bigger than bulgur, and thus takes up more skillet space, it’s recommended to add more chicken stock to keep everything moist, particularly when the skillet is put into the oven. Dish adapted from Cooking Light, April 2017.

  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic
  • ½ cup uncooked bulgur
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 cups chopped fresh kale (about 2 ½ ounces)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced bottled roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about ½ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons of oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Add chicken to pan; cook until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add remaining oil to pan. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add bulgur (or other grain) and oregano; cook, stirring often, until fragrant and toasted, about 2 minutes. Add kale and bell peppers; cook, stirring constantly, until kale begins to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add stock and remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Nestle chicken into bulgur mixture; place skillet in oven. Bake at 400 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion of chicken registers 165 degrees, or 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with feta. Let stand 5 minutes. Sprinkle with dill, and serve immediately.

Yields: 4 portions of 1 chicken breast with a helping of bulgur mixture.

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